On-call culture is fueling burnout and costing business
Mental health is becoming big business, writes Sara Hedger, safeguarding specialist, educational consultant and educational leader for 25 years.
I’m not referring to the plethora of resources and professionals that are now available to support our good mental and physical health, but according to a recent report by McKinsey Health Institute, as well as the human cost, employers are losing out on productivity and therefore profit due to poor mental health in their workforce, fuelled by a toxic work culture.
It makes no sense for humanity or business to lose good people, who with the right support and environment may have been able to continue. Despite this knowledge, burnout is on the rise amongst employees and senior leaders.
Unfortunately, stress and burnout can affect anyone at any time. We know that stress that is manageable is part of our ‘normal’ response to getting things done.
Whether that is feeling anxious before an exam, meeting a deadline or starting a race. We need the injection of adrenaline to spur us on. However, when this starts to feel overwhelming or our situation unfixable, we need to consider seeking help, we can’t just hope it fixes itself.
McKinsey suggests that encouraging role-modelling and sustained ownership by leaders can contribute to the success of improvements in wellbeing in the workforce, this, I believe is key.
Having spoken with many people in many different workplaces, I feel that one of the major issues is what I call the ‘on-call culture’. We know from the pandemic that remote working is possible and for many, preferable, but with the return to physical environments, the ‘bleeding’ of the working day into a ‘working night’ has crept up on us like a stealthy time thief.
We are extremely fortunate to be in a country that recognises the value of time away from work with an extended weekend being seen as a huge success for employees and businesses. However, if businesses continue to expect staff to work over the weekend, even from home, the positive effect this can have on wellbeing can be cancelled out.
Many of us think we are good at multi-tasking. We watch TV, eat a meal and answer emails or whatsapp on our phone all at the same time. However, this continuous checking of our phones and the feeling that we need to give an immediate response eats into the time we should be recharging. We know what happens when a battery drains its power and for many of us, that is what it has come to now…depleted power banks.
I was talking to a company leader recently who tries really hard to protect the downtime of his employees, limiting emails and whatsapp messages to only critical issues. This is admirable and a conscious effort to combat the intrinsic expectations for employees, but what of the cost to him?
More generally, the question remains…when did being on call 24 hours a day become the norm and with burnout on the increase, how do we tackle this in the future?